Quote of the Day – The Magic of Turbine

I admire turbine, they took perhaps the most well known IPs in fantasy and managed to make them small niche mmo

Scott Rankin, in a tweet

Isn’t that just a sarcastic stab at the heart of the truth?  And there is a whole trail of tweets on the topic if you click on the link.

When you think about it, Dungeons & Dragons and Lord of the Rings are huge IPs and ought to be cash cows if you made a decent game.

I cannot speak for Dungeons & Dragons Online, which has never clicked with me, but I really like and have enjoyed Lord of the Rings Online throughout the years.  Getting a lifetime subscription back at launch was one of my best gaming purchases.  It probably even offsets the tragic mistake of buying that Star Trek Online lifetime subscription.

And the landscape of Middle-earth looks so good in LOTRO and there are so many excellent features… I can go on and on about the music feature alone.

Music... and Anderson Cooper

Music… and Anderson Cooper

But I have to admit that things are not perfect.  The interface is still not as responsive as it ought to be nearly seven years down the road, the icons are still poor representatives of the actions they trigger, and every time I see the message, “Item use succeeded” I want to do a facepalm.  Good debug message for a programmer, not something that should be displayed in the game.  And then there is the cash shop.

And with further expansions off the table for now and layoffs and uncertainty as to what will happen between now and 2017, you really cannot help but think that things could have gone better.

Yahoo Headlines

Such promise…

I was a lot more hopeful a year back.

Great Moments in Exploits – The Ressurection

There were corpses all around the great fountain in Waterdeep.

Not that there aren’t usually a corpse or three sitting around there, preserved and waiting for a resurrection.  There was one there even as I started to write this.

Another day in Waterdeep

Another day in Waterdeep

But this different.  This was a lot of corpses.  And they were all from the same player who, I recalled, was a high level barbarian warrior.

Even as I stood there pondering the corpses the warrior, whose name I cannot recall all these years later, entered the room and attacked the elite guard.  He was killed almost immediately and another corpse joined the pile.

This went on for a while, the corpse count growing, while several of us pondered what he was up to.  Was this an attempt at an epic rage quit?  Was he working on some sort of corpse based art project?  Was this some sort of science project?

After a while, with many corpses on the ground, he gave up and went away.  Somebody was casting preserve on the corpses so that they would not rot and disappear as quickly, but otherwise we had a bunch of empty player corpses and some speculation about what had just happened.

As it turned out, of our possible answer, the last one turned out to be correct.  It was MUD science in action.

The player in question had apparently discovered that, in the character database, the key unique value for any character was the character’s name, as opposed to some unique never-seen number.  And why not?  Names were supposed to be unique in the world.  So what linked anything in the world to your character… equipment, corpses, money… was your character’s name.

The player had also discovered that when you die, part of the information saved with the corpse was how much experience it should restore to you if you received a resurrection.  When you died, you lost 25% of the experience of your current level.  If you got a successful ress, about 80% of that lost experience was returned to you.

And, finally, the player had noticed that when you deleted a character, any corpses that character left behind remained in the game.  The corpses were not tied to the character but were just objects in the world related to the character only because they were flagged with the character name.

Do you see where I am going with this?

So the player had taken his level 50 barbarian warrior, a somewhat common sort of character in the game and one of the easier classes to get up to level 50, and turned it into a pile of experience laden corpses strewn about the streets of Waterdeep.

The player then deleted what remained of that character, leaving the corpses behind.

The player then rolled up a new character, an enchanter, one of the most in-demand and difficult to level classes in the game.  He gave this character the same name as the warrior he had just deleted.  This character and name was approved by the admins… the naming rules were rigorously enforced by the people who ran TorilMUD… sort of… and this fresh level 1 enchanter entered the world.

This newly minted magic user made his way to Waterdeep, where a friendly cleric began resurrecting the corpses left behind by the old character.  And it worked.  The enchanter leveled up rapidly with each resurrection.  The enchanter did not make it to level 50, or even level 40 if I recall right, but he got far enough into the level curve to get past the awkward “got no spells” and “got no useful spells” points in his career and straight into the “I have key spells that make me useful to a group” zone, wherein he could expect to find experience groups easily and be able to make his way to the level cap with some diligence.

Experiment success!

Except, of course, for the whole part where he got caught almost immediately by the game admins.

The admins get a little message every time somebody levels up if they have the right feed turned on.  So while I understand that the player in question waited until no admins were visible online, there were a couple on that were hidden.  And they swooped down on him right away.

Now, this did not happen in the bad old days, when he likely would have been banned for life from ever playing TorilMUD.  There was a time when the admins would ban whole blocks of IP addresses just to rid themselves of one person, occasionally screwing over somebody else in the process.  But he had still be caught red-handed using an exploit to his own advantage.  He lost his new enchanter, all his experience, and probably some equipment along the way.  He was no doubt put on probation and might have even been given a temporary ban.  But if I recall right, they did not actively seek to ban him for life or burn down his house or anything that might have happened if he had tried this in the early to mid 90s.

And, shortly thereafter, a fix went in that wiped out any corpses remaining in the world when you deleted a character.

Or so I recall.

That is the rub here.  This happened nearly a decade ago.  I was not directly involved.  Everything I heard at the time was second or third hand and might have included a fair amount of speculation being passed off as fact.  And, of course, my own memory might have enhanced the tale as well.  The details might be totally out of alignment with what actually happened, and if you know something, feel free to correct me in the comments.

The essence of the tale is true though.  Somebody got their character killed repeatedly, saved the corpses, deleted the character, created a new character with the same name, and received repeated resurrections that rapidly leveled up the new character.  And I was around for bits of the whole thing.  Well, at least the killing and corpses bit.

And the whole event certainly does say something about players.  I am sure that this is covered somewhere in Raph Koster’s list of Laws of Online World Design.

I had actually forgotten about this event in TorilMUD history.  I was only reminded of it when I read Psychodhild’s post about the reincarnation game mechanic in Dungeons & Dragons Online.  That trigger the memory of somebody really attempting to recycle a character in order to bring it back as something new.

Which brings up the question if players ought to be allowed to do something with level cap characters that they do not play any more.  Could you use that as a re-roll mechanism that bestowed some benefit or which acted as a gate to new content for another run to level cap?

The 2013 List – This Time it is Goals

At the beginning of every year I write a post about the upcoming 12 months.  Sometimes it is silly predictions.  Sometimes my predictions are even correct, but not very often.  I have made demands.  I have asked questions.  Here is the story so far:

Now it is time for the 2013 version of my yearly post.

2013

This year I think I am going to set goals, which is just another way of drawing some marks in the sand to measure what happened when the year finally comes to a close.

1- Finish Rift

Well, finish Rift for a specific definition of “finish.”  MMOs are designed to never truly be finishable and Rift, with all its possible class builds, especially so.

In this case, it means hitting the level cap and running all of the five person instances with my main character, Hillmar, and the rest of the regular group.  And, just to put another parameter in the mix, I would like to see this happen before the inevitable Summer hiatus when we head out for vacations and other distractions.

2- Find a new goal in EVE

2012 was about learning to live in null sec and flying in large fleet operations.  There were large wars going on throughout most of the year and I flew all over null sec in fleet ops.  Now, however, things have quieted down.  There was no “Winter Break War” as there was last year and the prospect of any big conflict seems pretty remote right now.  We have been effectively ordered to not do anything that might result in the CFC having to deal with any more sovereignty.

Which puts me out of a job.

So I am in training mode with a little bit of ratting and selling now and again.  That can be lucrative, but it is also dull, as is mining.  (Though I hear from Gaff that with the new NPC AI, he has to actually tank all his mining ships as the rats now change targets.   And they pop drones without mercy, making drones pretty much useless for mission running and the like. So mining is dull AND annoying now!)

There are some things I could train up.  There are a few decent guides on planetary interaction out there, if I wanted to add that do my EVE resume.  There are some player skills I could work on, like scanning.  I am hopeless at scanning at the moment and, historically, every time I make an effort to figure it out, CCP changes how it works.

But as for what would essentially be a new vocation in EVE, I do not have a plan… or even a general direction.  It might be time to go back to that chart.

3- Get to Tier IX in World of Tanks

This is something of a vague goal, as I do not really have my eye on any specific Tier IX tank in WoT.  For now the Soviet heavy tanks seem to be my favorites, followed by the German tank destroyers.  But who knows, I might be mad for French self propelled guns or get the itch to nip about the field of battle in one of those Cromwells.  And then there is the Chinese tank line coming along soon.  Or so they say.

Anyway, barring any dramatic need to start up on another branch of the tree, Tier IX ought to be an obtainable goal even with my somewhat sporadic play schedule.  I just need some focus.

Good luck on that.

4- Finish that Second Instance Group Video

Almost a year back I put together a video about the first year of the regular instance group in World of Warcraft.  Fun stuff.  I like to go back and watch that video now and again.  Not quite as emotionally evocative as Sayonara Norrath, but a lot closer to home.

Originally I was going to make a video about our whole experience, but that was a huge project, so I cut it back to just the first year with the idea that I would do one for each of our six… headed into seven… years.

But while the first year was a good plan (for me at least) as it gets our origin, how do you distinguish it from year two, three, four, and so on?  So I decided I needed another specific subject.

I chose our time in Wrath of the Lich King for the next video.  I even started in on the long job of reviewing and editing pictures.  WotLK was the pinnacle of the instance group in WoW, where we finally got our act together.  It was also our downfall, the last happy time in WoW.  We got good at the game only to find that it isn’t that much fun when you are good.  When you are a random, badly equipped group running comedy specs in the wrong roles, every boss kill is a major victory.  When you are geared appropriately, using the right spec, and playing your role correctly, it starts to become a matter of just figuring out the gimmick for any given boss.

Archaedas was exaltation.  By the time we hit King Ymiron, he was just another boss on the long list.

Still, those were good times and set a standard of effort and fun that Cataclysm couldn’t match.  And it was a nice, discreet time frame.  We were there the day the expansion launched through to finishing off the last instance.

Piece of cake to put it together, right?

Except I cannot find the right music.  I need that to inspire me.  Earl’s rendition of Eleanor Rigby, with its twangy sounds and great mix of nostalgia and irony (all the lonely people indeed!) really moved me to finish the first video.  But I have not found the right music to get me excited to finish this video yet.  What will capture Northrend and the instance group, our travels, our defeats, and our victories?

So really my goal is really to find the right music.  We shall see if I can get there.

5- Retry an MMO That Didn’t Stick

There are a number of MMOs out there which I have tried and let drop after some effort.  For one reason or another the games just did not hold my attention or otherwise compel me to keep moving forward.

There are a number of options for this goal.  Possibilities include Vanguard, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Star Trek Online, Runes of Magic, Warhammer Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and probably a few more I have forgotten.  Pirates of the Burning Sea maybe!

The trick here of course is to find a game where whatever made me stop playing has either been changed/fixed or was something that I have since changed my mind about.  And that, in turn, is something of a function of the time that has passed since I last played the game.

SWTOR, for example, is just a year gone by, and I did not like blaster combat or having dialog forced on my character. The former probably hasn’t changed, while the latter is the vaunted “fourth pillar” that was going to distinguish the game, so it seems like unlikely that I am going to like the game any more than I did the first time around.

At the other end of the spectrum is Vanguard, which I haven’t really played since late beta, and which I only recall as being an ugly, lagging, broken, resource hog of a game that was clearly not ready for prime time.  Six years down the road it is possible they may have addressed some of those issues.

6- Scout for the Next Instance Group Game

With the downfall of WoW as our default game, it has become an ongoing task to scout for the next game we might try.  We are currently settled in Rift, but since the first goal on my list is to “finish” Rift before the Summer hiatus, it seems likely that we will need something new come the end of vacation.

As always, the usual parameters are in place.  It must have content that caters to groups of five or six people.  It has to work for a variety of play time budgets. (Some of us will play all week long, others will only play on group night.)  It has to have content that we can enjoy in our standard “three hours on a Saturday night” parameter.   And it has to be something that we can all buy into.

There are a lot of options out there, even discounting things some of us have already played.  I think that, as a group, we might find a month or two of fun in PlanetSide 2.  Four of us would probably find Need for Speed: World or World of Tanks good fun, but I am not sure about all five.  And there are candidates from both the previous and the next goal that are possibilities.  Picking one though and getting everybody to download and commit, that can be a challenge.

7- Book My Autumn Nostalgia Tour Early

Every autumn I get the urge to go back and play some game from my past.  Sometimes it is EverQuest or TorilMUD.  This past year is was EverQuest II.  And given my long time attachment to the games, you can probably put WoW and Lord of the Rings Online on the list of potential candidates.

The thing is, the urge tends to hit me rather suddenly and I run off, play for the requisite month or so solo, then the urge tapers off and I am pretty much done. (Pro Tip: Always subscribe month-to-month for nostalgia based events.)

But while this is often fun, it is usually a lot more fun if I can get Gaff or Potshot in on the tour.  Nostalgia is a meal best served family style or some such.  So if I can just peer into the future and maybe decide on my target, we can get together on the plan and have a great time.  The thing is, which game?  Do I book a room in old Qeynos for the rainy season, or is the Forsaken Inn a more likely holiday spot?

8- Blog Stuff

Often when I look at the future, I will tack on something about “playing more and writing less.”  Over time though, this has increasingly looked like nonsense.  Writing here on the blog is clearly part of the process of playing games… or at least online games… for me.  The writing, the remembering, the picking of screen shots, and the clicking of the “publish” button are all part of the package.

So my goal for the blog is pretty much “stay the course.”  And maybe find a new theme.  Though I have been saying that for about six years and I am still using the same WordPress theme that I had on day one.

So those are my goals for 2013.  Not very exciting.  We shall see how they play out.

How does 2013 look to you?  And any ideas for music for that video?

Who Drives Cash Shop Content…

I was somewhat bemused at SOE introducing wings as a flying mount in EverQuest II.

I have such a long history of bemusement with SOE on that front.  I have literally been complaining since the Desert of Flames expansion… the very first expansion… introduced lying carpets as a mount.  I have posts more than five years old on the subject at this point.

So many things wrong with this picture...

And while the flying carpets still bug me a bit, I have gotten over them for the most part.  Though the reason I have gotten over them is because much worse has come since.

The setup to a "frog in a blender" joke

And while ugly mounts pre-date the Station Cash store, the whole drive of mount mania… mounts with stats, hideously ugly mounts, hovering mounts, flying mounts, leaping mounts, gliding mounts, and now wings as mounts… seems to have been accelerating ever since the store went live.

As Raph Koster pointed out in his recent post on the free to play model, the ongoing process of buying decisions by the free to play players acts as a safety valve to keep the company from doing anything the comes across as too greedy.

The flip side though is that the cash shop, being an essential part of the revenue model, will have a sales quota to meet because people won’t buy your RMT currency if they cannot buy anything cool with it.  You need a plan for every month, every quarter, and every year that lays out your sales goals and how you plan to get there.

It is nice if you can sell consumables, things that boost experience or faction gain.  But if you’ve already drastically softened the leveling curve and handed out dozens of experience boost potions as veteran rewards in you game (I have even more unused potions sitting around now that all my characters are six year vets) that might not be enough.  I am sure SOE sells some of those potions (though they seem a bit pricey for a consumable), but I am far more likely to buy a deed accelerator in LOTRO since deed are still grind-tastic and I do not have a pile of them already.

An expansion is nice to have, though I bet the cash shop only gets partial credit on those sales.

You can always juice things up a bit by having a sale on your RMT currency.  The thought of everything in the store essentially being half off will get some people to buy, but only if there is something they want in the first place.

And on the flip side, you can always put things on the store on sale as well.  We all read that splash screen that comes up with the latest sale items in detail every time we log in, right?  Okay, maybe not.  And most people won’t buy something they didn’t already want even if it goes on deep discount.

All of which has to lead the cash shop planners to focus on what people have bought in the past.  What was a success before?  Just looking around on the Freeport server, I am going to have to say that mounts have sold well in the past.

And if mounts were a success in the past, that is a big incentive to make more.  And while there are no doubt people out there who will buy any new mount just to collect them all… and I speak as somebody whose main in WoW has 87 mounts… a lot more people will buy in if the latest mount is cooler than, or at least different from, anything that has gone before.

And so, as tough as it is for me to admit, wings on your character as a flying mount do seem cooler than just a flying mount.  I am sure that sales will be brisk, and not just with people who name their characters something like “Stabzudead.”

So that will cover some part of sales quota.  But eventually sales will slow and, to repeat that success, SOE will have to top the whole wings thing.  And so the chain of events that lead us to wings goes on, and something new and more outrageous will likely replace it.

And so it is.  Due to its success, we will likely see something in World of Tanks that will top the Type 59.  And, if they sell well, I am sure that LOTRO will offer us more gear with stats.

Raph Koster was certainly correct in the summary at the end of his post in saying, “Free to play is not evil, it’s just different.”

It is just different, and one of the differences is who and what matters when a cash shop is part of the plan.  If goofy stuff sells in your game, be prepared to see a lot more of it.

Meanwhile, I wonder what will come after those wings in the Station Cash store.

Struck from the List…

With the new year comes some feeling, some need to assess and reassess things.  And so it is today with the side bar of my blog.

For those viewing via remote reader or those who have never looked at it, down the right hand side there are two sections among the many categories of links titled “The Games I Play” and “The Games I Watch.”  They are so named partially so that they will sort in the order I want along the side bar.  WordPress.com only lets you have one list of links in your side bar (though you can whip up your own with a text field and some simple HTML if you really need more, but that goes beyond my ability to care about the side bar really) that can be divided into as many categories as you like.  But the categories sort alphabetically.  So I had to name them all in such a way that they would sort out correctly.

They are also named as an indication of my status vis-a-vis a given set of  games.  “The Games I Play” are the titles, usually just two, that I am actively playing.  It is easy enough to understand that.

Then there is the section “The Games I Watch,” which sounds a little odd, like they are being broadcast on TV or something.  The title was chosen for its ability to sort where I wanted it more than its clarity of message, obviously.

Games on that list are ones that I am not playing actively.  Sometimes there are games that have not even shipped yet on that list.  Diablo III is on that list right now, and it is months away at best.

Games in that section are games to which I pay attention, games which interest me, and games which I fully intend to either play when they ship, or go back and play at some point if I have already been there at some point.

And now, in the harsh light of the new year, I look at that list and I can see some entries that no longer fit the bill.

Runes of Magic

Remember back when a free to play games of any quality were a rare thing?  And there was Runes of Magic trying to bridge the gap between subscription quality and free to play access with, among other things, that $10 horse.

Back in the day, when he wasn’t on about that horse, Darren called it a WoW rip-off, which at the time, what with being free and all, seemed like a hearty endorsement to me.  So much so that, despite one of the worst installers ever, some of the instance group ran off to try the game at one point.

And it was okay.  It had the usual stuff, a few interesting twists like dual (and now triple) classing, as well as the standard “suffer or give us money” options when it came to storage and experience gain.  And gold spammers.  Many, many gold spammers.

My primary memory of RoM

But in the end, there was nothing there that really stuck with me.  We ran off to play other games.  Half the subscription MMO universe went free to play in the mean time, so that no longer suffices as an attraction.  I’ve totally forgotten my password… both of them, since there was a second login and password required to access the RMT currency, some of which I purchased at one point.

And then there is that installer.  Have they fixed that yet?  Or does somebody new still install the 2009 version of the game and then spend the next week patching?

Finally, the game is no longer interesting merely for its free to play model.  That was something worthy of note a couple years back, but not so today.

So I think it is time to admit that I am just not that interested in the game and the odds of my going back to falls somewhere between “slim” and “none.”  So it gets struck from the list.

Warhammer Online

You might be surprised that I still had Warhammer Online on my list until now.  Despite the howls of the now repentant fanbois every time I dared say anything negative about the game, there was a lot I did like about the Warhammer Online.  Our guild did have some excellent PvP battles at times, though for every good battle there were a couple of empty roll-over victories.  And then there was our first taste of a dungeon, which left nobody interested in a second.

The instance group in Warhammer

But the world itself was very well done, worthy of exploration.  And if I was complaining about the quest log, it was because I was using it a lot to run through the PvE portion of the game to see that world.  In fact, it was the idea of seeing the world that kept the game on my list.

The instance group moved on and there were other games higher on my list, but I kept thinking that at some point Mythic would change something in the game worth seeing or put out a “come back and play” offer that would get me to return.

They did have a come back and play offer at one point, ten whole free days, how generous!  But it involved giving Mythic a credit card, and that seemed like a really good way to get screwed by Mythic, given their past sloppy handling of credit card transactions.  So I didn’t try that.

Then, more than a year after launch, they made the trial version of the game, which restricted  you to a tier 1 character, unlimited.  That was interesting for some I suppose, but where I wanted to go would have put me well outside of tier 1.

They even talked about producing a Mac version of the game.  Did they think that Mac users were that desperate for an MMO?  I was tempted to try that just to see how bad it was, but never got around to it.  I don’t even know if that came to pass in the end or if it is even still supported.

In the end, no “right moment” to go back ever materialized.  Nothing compelling to me was ever offered up after launch.  And I would still have to pay a subscription fee to go back and explore, and the bar to get me to do that has only gone up in the last couple of years.

So that world will remain unexplored by me, as Warhammer Online is off the list.

Games Close to Being Struck

Star Trek Online is on the edge. I keep thinking I will go back and play.  But every time I log in, I am faced with a wave of changes similar to what Ravious described in going back to LOTRO, and I end up so mired in figuring out what to do that I end up logging off for a few more months, only to repeat the cycle again.

I logged on long enough to get this screen shot!

At some point I hope I will have enough time and desire to play, at which point I will start with a fresh character and learn it all from scratch again.  Only there are always a couple of other games I would rather play first.  Well, maybe some day.  But for now it stays on the list, if only because of that lifetime subscription I bought.  Oof.

And then there is Dunegons & Dragons Online, which I really want to like, but which is likewise always in 4th or 5th place on my to-do list.  At least it is free to play and uses the Turbine patcher which at least puts it a couple steps ahead of Runes of Magic.  But it is in jeopardy of being struck at some point.  I just never get to it.

Games On or to be Added

You might point out that I have declined to play Star Wars: The Old Republic so far post-beta.  But I will likely play the game again at some point.  There is enthusiasm for it in the instance group, and even Gaff has picked it up already.  And I do watch the news about it.  I am interested to see, for example, if torture ever comes up as an issue the way it did for WoW back with Wrath of the Lich King.  I am guessing that for most people, that ends up being a matter of “Sith will be Sith.”

I should probably add Torchlight II to the list.  I have no doubt that I will play that when it launches.

Likewise, Guild Wars 2 will probably get a slot at some point.  It is on my list to play, but I haven’t spent much time with the news or marketing build-up.  So I am not really “watching” it yet.

And the rest of the list… well, those are games I am sure I will continue to keep an eye on and poke my nose into every so often.

How about you?  Have you reassessed any games on your list, be it written down or just in your head?  Are there games you have decided that you just are never going to get back to?

Reviewing My 2010 Predictions

Oh yeah, I made a bunch of crazy predictions back in January, didn’t I?

For some reason last year I changed my predictions format from a set of paragraph long generalizations to a series of one line, very specific (well, mostly) guesses at the future.  I think I was pressed for time and the humor muse had not bothered to visit.  Plus it was always hard to score those paragraphs, especially since I seemed to insist on points. (I have accounting in my background, I must quantify everything!)

Now, of course, we’re here at the end of the year and I have discovered the flaw in my plan; I need to go figure out whatinthehell I got right or wrong.  And there are like a bunch of them, some of which I have not bothered to pay attention to and others about which I really didn’t give a damn in the first place but was trying to get to a 200 point total for some maniacal round-number reason.

Anyway, what’s done is done.  Next year I think I am going to go back to big predictions and a pass/fail model.  Or something.

I started on this Thanksgiving weekend and, because of apathy, I haven’t found all the answers yet.  Fortunately, other people have started posting their prediction results, so I can crib from that a bit.  Plus I’ll make you, the reader, correct my mistakes.  How about that?

So let’s see how good that cold medication was last December.  What did I predict?

Predictions for Blizzard in 2010! (5 points each)

  • StarCraft II – Will ship second quarter 2010 – Missed by 27 days, 0 points
  • Cataclysm – Will ship fourth quarter 2010 – A pretty safe guess, 5 points
  • Cataclysm – Will beat WotLK’s 24 hour sales record – Yes indeed.  I do wonder how much digital pre-orders helped.  5 points
  • Diablo III – Will not ship in 2010 – Another safe one, in my opinion, 5 points
  • New MMO – An announcement at BlizzCon with the usual Blizzard mystery build-up – Nothing at BlizzCon, 0 Points

15 out of 25 points

Big Miss – RealID and Battle.net focus?  I’m not sure those were that big in the end.

Sony Online Entertainment predictions! (5 points each)

  • Planetside – Dead by December – Still alive… barely… but I always thought that The Agency had to come online before it went. 0 points
  • Norrath – Official details about the next Norrath based MMORPG some time in 2010 – We artist conceptions and some vague information, so I’m claiming 3 out of 5 points
  • Norrath – The next Norrath based MMORPG won’t be called EverQuest III – Do we have that in writing? No? 0 points
    EverQuest II – All digital distribution after the February expansion – I don’t see Destiny of Velious listed at Amazon.com, so I’m taking this as a yes. – 5 points.
  • EverQuest – The next round of server consolidation will happen, and it will be a good thing – And so it was.  I should have predicted it for EQII as well. – 5 points
  • The Agency – Won’t ship in 2010 – Saying The Agency won’t ship is like betting against the Cubs, and no, the Facebook game does not count – 5 points
  • PlayStation 3 – SOE still won’t have a PS3 MMO title by the end of 2010 – The put Free Realms on the Mac, but no PS3 support yet.  They’ve been talking about stuff on the PS3 since E3 in 2008 at least… go listen to VW Podcast #125… and still nothing.  You guys at SOE work for the PlayStation people now, right? – 5 points

23 out of 30 points

Big Miss – A free to play version of EQII

What will EA do? (5 Points each)

SWTOR – Not in 2010, no no no. – Another safe bet – 5 points

WAR – Won’t die in 2010, but won’t magically spring back to life either.  It will just trudge on with enough resources to keep it going and improve it slightly, but not enough to change anything dramatically. – Vague enough for 5 points

10 out of 10 points

Big miss – Umm… Lord of Ultima?  Was there a UO expansion or something?

Turbine predictions (5 points each)

  • LOTRO – Next expansion, announced in 2010, will be the Riders of Rohan! – Isengard, not Rohan – 0 points
  • LOTRO – Riders of Rohan will feature real mounted combat – 0 points
  • DDO – Continued success under the free to play banner with a push into some overland content – vaguely fulfilled – 1 point
  • New – We’ll hear about Turbine’s next project in 2010. – Not so much – 0 points

1 out of 20 points

Big Miss – LOTRO going free to play

CCP Predictions (5 points each)

  • Station ambulation – Still just a myth in 2010 – Again, like betting against the Cubs – 5 points
  • Dust 514 – Not for 2010 – What was that? – 5 points
  • EVE – Two Content Releases, don’t we always get two a year? – Well, we got 1.1 expansions - 2 points
  • EVE – Tech III ships will finally become common enough that you might actually see one now and again. – I have one and, while flying it, have ended up at a jump gate with another, is that common enough? – 5 points

17 out of 20 points

Big Miss – What was the big CCP story this year?

Runic Games (5 points each)

  • An inexpensive expansion will be released for Torchlight to keep funding going for Runic’s MMO – Nope – 0 points
  • Runic will give us some concrete details about said MMO – Nope – 0 points
  • That MMO won’t ship in 2010 – Well, they didn’t announce it, so 0 points
  • But said details will make some pundit say, “Wow, that’s what Dungeon Runners should have done.” – 0 points

0 out of 20 points.  I thought they would move faster than they are.

Big Miss – Multiplayer Torchlight, sort of the interim step between the first game and the MMO.

NCSoft (5 points each)

  • Aion – Going to seem like a replay of Lineage II, popular in Asia, less so in the west.  Still, it will have enough customers to keep going.  Given how readily NCSoft shuts things down, that will be saying something. – Um, I can’t even answer that – 0 points
  • GuildWars 2 – Not for 2010 – 5 points
  • PlayStation 3 – NCSoft still won’t have a PS3 MMO title by the end of 2010 – I guess I can let that old SCEA/NCSoft agreement die now – 5 points

10 out of 15 points

Other Titles (5 points each)

  • Darkfall – Will continue walking the tightrope between hardcore PvP focus and giving players something to do when they aren’t actively engaged in battle.  Slow growth with at most a single server added to the game for 2010. – Sounds vaguely right, but SynCaine will correct me – 5 points
  • Star Trek Online – Won’t disappoint Trek fans, but we’re all co-dependent on the franchise after years of reckless treatment by the studio.  We’ll all still be there after the first 30 days playing with our pre-order bonus items.  The rest of you people though… – I stopped playing, so there is a big claim I missed - 0 points
  • Hero’s Journey – It was best of show at E3 in 2005, but it will still be a no-show in 2010. – Like betting against the Twins – 5 points (Amusingly, Simutronics now has a somewhat whiny entry in their Hero Engine FAQ about Hero’s Journey, saying that the work for it is all in the Hero Engine so stop bugging them about it already.  Anyway, Star Wars: The Old Republic will be the eventual showcase for their work, pretty much the make or break I’d guess.)

10 out of 15 points

MMO Industry

The following people will have new companies and new projects announced in 2010 (2 point each):

  • Mark Jacobs – No word here – 0 points
  • Richard Garriott – Some awful Facebook thing – 2 points
  • Bill Roper – Still at Cryptic doing… something – 0 points
  • Brian Green – Umm… The Fae’s Wyrd was a project, right?  – 2 points
  • Scott Hartsman – Rift, about which so many are talking of late – 2 points

6 out of 10 points

One of the following companies will announce their first/next project, and it won’t be an MMO (5 points):

  • Aventurine – no announcement
  • Carbine Studios – no announcement
  • Red5 Studios – Firefall – it is an online, co-op shooter, so not really a traditional MMO –   5 points
  • Simutronics – no announcement
  • Turbine – No announcement

5 points

One of the following people will move to Canada (5 points):

  • Scott Jennings
  • Mark Jacobs
  • Brian Green
  • Scott Hartsman
  • Richard Bartle
  • Alan Crosby
  • David Reid

Isn’t there some Canadian sovereign territory at Disneyland?  No?  0 points

Spurious Logic Random neurons firing for the following guesses.

Most subscription MMOs that sell vanity items like pets or appearance gear will sell custom mounts by the end of 2010.  WoW and EQ2 will be the benchmark. (5 points) – erm… can’t really say yes to that – 0 points

“Yahtzee” Croshaw will review exactly ONE muh-more-puh-gah on Zero Punctuation during 2010, and it will be Star Trek Online.  He won’t like it (duh) but the Trekkie humor will be too much for him to resist doing a review. (5 points) – Nope, 0 points

We will find out that the following people will be appearing or doing voice work in the Warcraft movie (IMDB  shows no actors as of this date – 1 point each):

  • Jack Black
  • William Shatner
  • Keanu Reeves
  • Ben Stein
  • James Earl Jones
  • John Ratzenberger
  • Bruce Campbell
  • Sarah Silverman
  • David Spade
  • Lucy Lawless

Nothing – No cast announcements yet.  IMDB puts it as a possible 2013 release – 0 points

0 out of 20 points

Total Points

My first pass, hand-waving total is 97 out of 200 points.

Not bad for my mix of obvious slam-dunks and way off the reservation guesses I suppose.

Now, I will look to comments for corrections and will post an updated score once people point out that I was really wrong about those 97 points and that my total should be much lower.

So correct me already.

Meanwhile, I’m working on a less intensive set of predictions for next year.

Turbine is Totally the Reason Warhammer Online Failed…

Alusiphus is totally pissed at Turbine.  He hates them and the games they make.

-He hates Dungeons & Dragons Online, which is too complex.

-He hates Lord of the Rings Online, which is a total WoW copy grind fest.

-He hates Warhammer Online, because it is boring and totally not worth it.

-And he hates that Turbine is making a Warhammer 40K MMORPG.

Hrmm… about those last two Alusiphus….

I hate to break up a good rant with annoying details, but Turbine is totally not in the picture when it comes to Warhammer of any flavor.  EA Mythic messed up the first one, and I believe it is THQ that is in the process of messing up the second.

Alusiphus hates other games.  He hates Star Trek Online, for example, and Final Fantasy XIV.

He seems to have no opinion on Asheron’s Call, but since Turbine made it, I think we can guess where he’d go with that.

On the bright side, he does seem to like World of Warcraft and Pokemon.  You have to give him that.

If you aren’t getting your USDA recommended daily allowance of bile and rants, you should go read his blog.  But remember, small doses are best.

What is the Tax Burden on 100,000 Turbine Points?

I have no idea, really, but it is probably more than you think.

The latest LOTRO contest brought this thought to my mind.

The team at Turbine is having a contest, the grand prize for which is 100,000 Turbine Points.

That is a lot of Turbine points.

Enough that we’re starting to talk about real world value that is getting into consequential (i.e. taxable) amounts of money.

Depending on how you purchase them (since I have not seen Turbine publish anything like SOE’s guideline which pegs the value of 100 Station Cash at $1.00 US), that many Turbine points could run you anywhere from $600 to $1500.

For the sake of easy math, let’s call it 100 Turbine Points = $1.00 US, just like SOE’s model, in which case Turbine is giving you a prize worth $1,000.

And since the US Internal Revenue Service requires a business to file and issue a 1099-MISC tax document if they give you more than $600 in a calendar year, if you win you might find yourself paying for some of those free Turbine Points.

1099-MISC Filled Out Incorrectly

Think I am kidding?  Ask anybody who has ever been on Oprah’s Favorite Things episode.  You get all that free stuff, then you get a 1099-MISC with the retail value listed on it and the IRS wants its cut of that income.  Or something along those lines.  From the instructions for the 1099-MISC form:

Box 3. Generally, report this amount on the “Other income” line of Form 1040 and identify the payment. The amount shown may be payments received as the beneficiary of a deceased employee, prizes, awards, taxable damages, Indian gaming profits, or other taxable income. See Pub. 525. If it is trade or business income, report this amount on Schedule C, C-EZ, or F (Form 1040).

The tax on ordinary income is 28% the last time I checked (less all those deductions, which includes the fee for the tax person to get you all those deductions) so you could, theoretically find the IRS looking for up to 28,000 of your Turbine Points, if you are in the worst possible tax situation.  And then there is your state income tax, if you live in the right/wrong state.  That could add up to another 10,000 Turbine Points.

Well, the cash equivalent thereof.

I don’t think the IRS wants the points any more than it wants the engine out of the new VW Beetle some people got on Oprah last week.  But I like the idea of the IRS and the Franchise Tax Board with a fund of Turbine Points.  What would they buy?  Probably more storage space to hold the stuff they impound.

I know that, in the past, people have talked about the real world value of virtual currency.  Edward Castronova has measured the… gross virtual product I suppose… of such currencies in virtual enconomies while Julian Dibbell, in his book Play Money tried to get the IRS to put a value on his virtual world earnings.

But that has generally been about virtual currencies which are controlled by companies that deny, quite vehemently, that they are convertible into real world money and actively seek to stop such conversions.  (How many gold sellers has Blizzard banned to date?)

But now Turbine is giving away 100,000 units of a virtual currency which quite clearly has real world value.  They sell it for real world currency.  Even if we ignore the virtual currency dimension, it is something of value, a prime revenue stream for Turbine, that users buy to gain access to various aspects of the game.

Given that, is the IRS going to want a cut of the prize?

I don’t know, but I’m still entering the contest.  I do know what I’ll do with the points I am allowed to keep after taxes.

LOTRO Cash Shop Now Takes… Cash

Turbine sent me a note last week to inform me that I can now buy Turbine Points at Best Buy, GameStop, or Target.  Turbine has a page on their site about it.

Points plus bonus points... or something

$10 gets you 600 Turbine Points… or 750 Turbine Points, depending on whether you accept the logic that the extra points are really free or not.  1.67, or even 1.33 cents per point seems a bit steep to me.

But you have to pay for the convenience of being able to break open your piggy bank and run down to Target to buy virtual currency.

A couple of years back, the head of Nexon said (at GDC if I recall right) that getting these cards in the stores was a gold mine for both the company and the retailer.  But Nexon has cards at a lot more retailers than Turbine.

We’ll see if their cards are still available in a year I guess.  If they are, they were probably a success.

And I still think it was a mistake for Turbine to make LOTRO Turbine Points and DDO Turbine Points separate.

One Month of LOTRO Free to Play

A month has gone by since Lord of the Rings Online changed its business model and went live advertising itself as free to play.

I am not sure if enough time has elapsed to declare success, but things are certainly upbeat.

There is some contention over what constitutes free.  There are some who are happy enough to be able to get into the game without handing over a credit card number, while others feel that if every single thing in the game is not attainable within the game without paying any money, then it is not free.

I even read something from one champion of the whole cash shop business plan concept decrying LOTRO for selling anything beyond fluff items.

Sure, the LOTRO Store has its share of fluff, appearance gear, house items, and even some special horses for a limited time.

 

Only available until October 22

 

I’m sure that the fact that these mounts are for sale will annoy somebody, since you have to work to get them in game.

But no matter what you sell in a game cash shop you will piss somebody off.

People who are perfectly content buying boxed expansions bristle at the idea of buying content.

People will fret about being able to buy uber elite gear, even though I have yet to see a cash shop that sold that sort of thing.  It certainly isn’t available at the LOTRO Store.  Not even basic equipment is available so far as I can tell, but my highest level character is only 40.  The shop won’t show you things you cannot use… for the most part.

And, as a gaming company, if you sell only useless fluff then your accountant will start yelling at you because you won’t be able to pay the bills.

It is a fine balance and success is a day to day measure, because you could break faith or cause an uprising with the next item you add to your store.

But Turbine has some practice at this, what with Dungeons & Dragons Online being the darling of the free to play proponents, having made the transition from subscription and done very well.  Or so we hear.

And now they have LOTRO in that league as well.

When it comes to the business model change, I’m somewhat indifferent.  But then I can afford to be.  Turbine has me covered.

Three and a half years ago I put down my $199 for a lifetime subscription and have been pretty happy with it ever since.  I just want the game to survive because then I can keep playing.  That I became a lifetime VIP member with this transition seemed like an excellent payoff.

 

The Real Levels of LOTRO

 

Still, I had my hopes for the LOTRO Store when I saw I was going to be getting a stipend of 500 Turbine Points a month for my early investment.  Considering that when buying said points that they can run anywhere from 0.7 cents to 1.75 cents a piece, I’m feeling pretty good.

The first thing I went after in the LOTRO Store was the upgraded horse for all of my characters in their 20s.  Having the fast horse is nice as travel is simply part and parcel of the game.  If you aspire to level up, you will see a lot of Middle-earth from ground level.

After that I spent some of my Turbine Points on individual vault space upgrades.  I had been waiting for F2P to go live with a couple of my characters simply because they were out of space.  Vault upgrades used to not only cost in-game currency, but were also level restricted.  My two space constrained characters couldn’t have gotten more vault space no matter how much gold they had in game.

I didn’t go completely nuts on the individual vault space upgrades as I have a few alts and I could see that quickly eating up my entire pool of points.  I did purchase an upgrade to shared storage, though upgrading that is a bit dear in price.  On the other hand, it is also incredibly convenient, so perhaps it ought to be a bit pricey.

Then I found an unexpected use for my Turbine Points: Crafting.

When you craft, when you get into a particular tier you get the first batch of recipes for that tier right away, for free, no questions asked.

Generally the next set of recipes in a tier, which make equipment a couple of levels higher, is available from the crafting trainer for your profession.

But there seems to be, I have seen, two more sets of recipes.  And for those you have to depend on drops or the auction house.  Neither of those avenues are very satisfying.  Drops are completely random off of sentient creatures and the auction house is… expensive.  I hate to whine about price gouging… business is business… so let’s just say that there are people out there who seem determined to see how much the market will bear.  That places them mostly out of my price range.  When you have a gold and you wand six recipes that are up for a gold each, you’re probably going to end up doing without.

However, I found that some variation of those last two sets of recipes can be purchased through the LOTRO Store, and at pretty reasonable prices.  I generally ignore the last set in a tier as it overlaps with the first set of the next tier, but the material requirements are pretty steep.  But that third set, I went and snapped up the recipes I was missing.

And then there was crafting tools.  You can buy the deluxe ones that give the best chance of a critical success through the LOTRO Store.  That was a no-brainer.  We had somebody in our Kinship who was making tools, but he disappeared (peers at Gaff through narrowed eyes) so we’re on our own.

So I found my sweet spots in the LOTRO Store.

And the game itself seems more lively.  There are a lot more players running around in the starting and low level areas, what is essentially the free on all counts portion of the game.  The chat channels have degraded somewhat.  It isn’t Barrens chat yet, but you get at least one bozo a night that makes you wonder why you haven’t turned off OCC yet.

The instance group got into the Lone Lands about the time the business model changed, but a lot of people have caught up with us.  People seem to either be okay spending some money on that as their first bit of paid for content, or they figured out that you can earn Turbine points in game to pay for it.  The Lone Lands is only 350 Turbine Points, or less than half the price I paid for a 10 slot upgrade to shared storage, and you can earn 650 Turbine Points in the starting areas if you are diligent.

That will get you the Lone Lands and give you a start on the next area.

Other things have changed in the game, small things.  The starting quests are a little different and if you are of the race of men, you get to meet Aragorn first thing.

The UI has been spiffed up a bit.   The icons remain the same though.  I’m not sure it is worth another attempt to make them better though.  So many of us are used to the silly ones.  There is a real art to making an icon that represents the concept you want to get across without becoming a literalistic parody of what you’re trying to say.

And I noticed that a lot of the vendor trash that drops from mobs has been renamed and sometimes given a different icon.  The changed ones sound vaguely more useful, something you might actually be able to sell to a vendor.  And some of them actually stack to 50 in your bags rather than the old stacks of 10.

But otherwise the game is pretty much the same.  Turbine has been busy over the last three and a half years.  And while it still does not have quite the same polished feel when it comes to mechanics like UI functionality and responsiveness, it is quite an improvement over how things felt back on day one.

Now if they could just make it so I don’t un-target the mob I am fighting if I accidentally click somewhere on the landscape, I’d be very happy.

How about you?  Have you been back to Middle-earth since it went free to play?

[Addendum: Massively says things seem to be going well for LOTRO since the switch.]